The Washington Post: When Edward Hopper fell in love with Jo Nivison, she turned his life around

August 3, 2023

A brilliant show at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, Mass., looks at the four summers Hopper spent in the seaside town with the painter he married.

Review by Sebastian Smee.

GLOUCESTER, Mass. — How well do you know your Ed Hopper?


The question almost sounds insolent because, of course, America’s favorite 20th-century painter was not “Ed.” He was very much Edward. Reserved. A bit stiff (like his nudes). Anglo-Saxon. A connoisseur of solitude.

Edward Hopper to you and me.

On the other hand, we know his wife, who was born Josephine Nivison, as Jo.

Jo entered Hopper’s life in a big way in 1923. A marvelous show at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, Mass., marks the centenary of this momentous year. “Edward Hopper and Cape Ann: Illuminating an American Landscape” opened on Hopper’s birthday — July 22.

The show’s focus is on the work he made during summer visits to Cape Ann, an hour northeast of Boston, in the 1920s. But it also goes to considerable lengths to tell the story of Jo, who is recast (according to the catalogue’s dust flap) “as principal producer of Hopper’s distinctive style and his ‘brand’ visionary from the time of their marriage in 1924 until his death in 1967.”

To say that someone other than Edward Hopper produced Edward Hopper’s style is a big, strange-sounding claim. Labeling Jo a “‘brand’ visionary,” meanwhile, sounds like a wacky anachronism. But even if you don’t accept the terminology, there are uncomfortable truths lurking behind both claims, and this show dares to go there.

The exhibit comes with a lavishly produced catalogue, the text thoroughly researched and beautifully written by Elliot Bostwick Davis (a former head of American art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). If you can’t go, the book will do nicely. But the show is worth traveling to see.


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